Bears

"This Kid's DNA Is Rare:" In his first pro game, David Montgomery gave the Bears a tantalizing glimpse into how great he can be

"This Kid's DNA Is Rare:" In his first pro game, David Montgomery gave the Bears a tantalizing glimpse into how great he can be

CHICAGO –– If Bears’ running back David Montgomery had any jitters before taking the field for his first NFL game, you certainly wouldn’t have noticed. On a night when many of the team’s presumed Week 1 starters were either inactive or quickly pulled, it was the rookie back who kept fans in their seats at Soldier Field. 

Montgomery scored the Bears only touchdown of the game on a seven-yard scamper in the 2nd quarter. The run was designed to go up the middle, but when the gaps weren’t there, he quickly bounced left, shed a tackler, and slipped through two more defenders on his way into the end zone.

On his first night in a real NFL jersey, Montgomery finished with 16 rushing yards on three attempts along with three receptions for 30 yards. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but the pass-catching, good vision, and quick feet that many in Bourbonnais have raved about for the last two weeks were once again on display. 

“I was just enjoying the moment, and living in the moment” he said after the Bears’ 23-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers. “And you understand that every opportunity, you have to take it seriously. Just take everything seriously. But for me, it’s just about going out there and having fun.” 

Whether it’s head coach Matt Nagy or running backs coach Charles London, those who watch Montgomery every day have marveled at the approach he brings to each meeting and practice. A determined reserve is all well and good, but the ever-growing tape of him patiently waiting for gaps to open or shedding multiple tacklers has been the real eye opener so far. 

"He runs hard. He runs really, really hard," head coach Matt Nagy said. "He runs violent. He's angry when he runs, and he's tough to bring down with that first defender, so we like that. And you can see what he can do in the pass game as well - made some nice catches and runs after the catch.

"He wanted more. That kid won't stop." 

Nagy admitted that he didn't see Montgomery's touchdown, instead only hearing the bench and crowd react as he was dialing up the next play. That didn't stop him from putting his arm around the rookie when he returned to the sideline, though, and letting Montgomery know how impressed he was. Nagy wasn't alone in that, either. 

“Yeah, I was super impressed with him,” added quarterback Chase Daniel. “Just his calmness in the huddle. He wasn’t really anxious, he didn’t seem nervous -- maybe he was inside -- but that’s always good to see from a running back. It’s fun to watch him play. It’s fun to watch him make these cuts, especially on the touchdown, and go out there. He’s in his natural element playing football, he’s a football player. So it’s fun to watch.”

As if that weren’t enough, Montgomery’s first game ended on a high note when, on special teams, he crossed the entire field to catch Panthers’ punt-returner Terry Godwin -- who had nothing but green grass between him and the end zone -- and push him out of bounds. 

“If I’m on special teams, and that’s the job they want me to do, then that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “If I were to let him score, I wouldn’t be doing my job, so I’m not one for not doing my job. I just handle my business.” 

Why hasn't Khalil Mack been getting sacks lately?

Why hasn't Khalil Mack been getting sacks lately?

Khalil Mack has one sack over his last five games — or, to put it another way, he has one sack since Akiem Hicks suffered a gruesome elbow injury that landed him on injured reserve. 

But the effort given by highest paid defensive player in NFL history hasn’t dwindled, and he hasn’t lost any of the skills that made him a franchise-altering sensation in 2018. Opposing offenses quickly figured out that without Hicks to affect the pocket up the middle, they can do whatever they want to scheme Mack out of making a massive impact. 

For the Detroit Lions on Sunday, that meant having every position on the offensive line (tackle, guard, center) as well as tight ends, running backs and wide receivers do their part to keep Mack out of the pocket. And the Lions’ playcalling played a part, too, with plenty of quick throws and bootlegs to get quarterback Jeff Driskel away from Mack. 

The result, as outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino explained, was Mack having only nine one-on-one opportunities to rush the quarterback on 46 drop-backs. 

“This is a guy that doesn’t flinch, doesn’t get frustrated, he’s a great teammate,” Monachino said. “Is he still impacting games? Not the way that he would like. Impacting plays, yes, down in and down out, but I do believe that you gotta give those teams a lot of credit. They’re going to tend to him and they have done a really nice job of it. 

“… So I think he would love to impact the game more with those game-changing plays, but right now he’s looking at it like Novocain. He’s going to keep using it and eventually it’s going to work.”

Aside from the inscrutable nature of that Novocain comment, Monachino has a point: Mack’s mere presence is still impacting games. The problem is the Bears aren’t getting enough from Leonard Floyd — who only has one sack since Week 1 — to help balance out the extreme focus on Mack. 

While Nick Williams has performed well in Hicks’ absence — he leads the Bears with six sacks — Mack’s lack of sacks is another ripple effect of not having No. 96 on the field. 

“Akiem demands attention,” Monachino said. “He requires at least four eyes on him. Without push inside — and we’re getting great edge rushes out of Roy (Robertson-Harris) and out of Bilal (Nichols) and out of Nick, obviously Nick’s really been productive. 

“But without great push in the middle of the pocket, the quarterback is able to climb the pocket. And when he can climb the pocket, our edge stuff isn’t as good. So our counters have to get better, but when our counters get better and they’re still turning the protection to you and there’s a guard standing there waiting on you, it’s hard to get home.”

So while Mack is affecting opposing offenses, he’s not wrecking games like he did in 2018 and the first four games of 2019. This is all to say it’s not really his fault. Every offensive coordinator and coach is going to make sure Mack does not beat them when they play the Bears, because as we’ve seen, there’s not proven to be much downside to committing a tackle, guard, tight end, running back and/or wide receiver to blocking or chipping him on a given play. 

Even a player as great as Mack can’t overcome that. 

The problem for the Bears is the solution to this problem doesn’t exist right now. Floyd is who he is at this point in his career, and Hicks won’t be back until Week 15 at the earliest. So the Bears might need to ride this out and play solid, sound defense with the understanding those game-wrecking plays produced or caused by Mack may be in short supply for the time being. 

It's another reason why the Bears' defense is good, but not great, in 2019. 

“He was effective (against Detroit),” Monachino said. “He would prefer to be productive. But getting around the quarterback, forcing different arm angles, forcing the guy to throw the ball sooner than he wants to, those things are still happening.” 

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Analytics: Mitch Trubisky was better than his stats suggest vs. Lions

Analytics: Mitch Trubisky was better than his stats suggest vs. Lions

It's Mitch Trubisky week in Chicago after the Bears defeated the Detroit Lions, 20-13, in Week 10's semi-breakout game at Soldier Field for the struggling third-year quarterback.

Trubisky tossed three touchdowns in the victory and finished the game 16-of-23 for 173 yards. He added eight yards rushing on three attempts.

The stats aren't great; they're solid. He threw three touchdowns, which isn't easy in the NFL, but he didn't dominate the Lions for four quarters like he did in 2018 when he passed for 355 yards and three touchdowns in Week 9.

Still, Trubisky was better than he's been all season even if he did take too many sacks and was off-target more than Matt Nagy (or anyone wearing Bears colors) would've liked to see.

But as is often the case, stats don't tell the complete story of a player's performance. Enter analytics giant Pro Football Focus, whose grades for Week 10's game helps sharpen the focus on Trubisky's day. 

He was the team's third-highest graded player on offense with a 78.6, which also set a new watermark for his 2019 season. His next-highest grade is 60.7, which he registered in Week 9 against the Eagles. 

Allen Robinson's 80.6 was the only full-time starter who scored higher than Trubisky. Ben Braunecker's 90.9 was tops, but he only played 12 snaps.

Trubisky was especially effective when he had time to throw. He scored an 81.5 when the Bears' pass protection held up, completing 13-of-18 passes for 113 yards and all three scores when he wasn't under pressure. This stat is important to note because like any quarterback, Trubisky's struggles, at times, have been the product of a breakdown in pass protection. His grade dropped to a 63.5 on Sunday when pressure ensued around him.

Trubisky was also solid on passes that traveled beyond 20 yards. He completed three of his four downfield throws for 75 yards; it's a part of Chicago's offense that seemed to disappear over the team's four-game losing streak. Nagy's newfound commitment to the run should continue helping Trubisky and the offense's third-level passing game.

Was Trubisky great in Week 10? No, he wasn't. There were plenty of bad throws and bad decisions, but let's be honest: that isn't exactly shocking. What is surprising, however, is what he did well. And if there's anything to take from Sunday's game, it's that he at least has the potential to improve. 

At this point, 'potential' is better than anything we've seen in 2019.